Famous Tea: 1999 BGT Blue/Black Ticket

I’ve never really considered doing: one post, one tea reviews on TeaDB. It’s the most standard type of tea blog and I don’t think I have much to add beyond what many of the blogging warriors have done so already. I’m also not great at waxing poetic in tasting descriptions nor do I have the photography skills of some others. Nevertheless, I’m making an exception. For many of the nicer teas we’ve brought onto the show viewers have complained that we’re not doing the tea justice by chugging 7 or 8 brews in 15-20 minutes. And they’re 100% right! We’re not going to film 1.5 hour episodes and are drinking fast out of necessity so we can cover more than just 2 or 3 infusions of these teas. In short, it’s not how we’d drink the tea in any other circumstance..

The Tea: 1999 Big Green Tea Blue/Black Ticket

I am privileged to be exposed to a lot of very good teas. This is partially done with my wallet, but also from the generosity of friends in the tea community. There are teas far beyond my reach and willingness to spend that I’ve had the pleasure of drinking thanks to others. A big thank you to Peter for generously providing the tea for this write-up. The tea was acquired recently from Taiwan and has presumably been stored there for some amount of time. The storage is not totally dry and I’d guess is some sort of natural Taiwan storage.

The tea is the 1999 Big Green Tree with a Blue/Black Ticket. The wrapper has the words “Yiwu Zhengshan” written on it, but both it and the Red Ticket Big Green Tree are supposedly Nannuo material. These are a few of the most famous cakes released around the turn of the century representing a new and changing era of pu’erh. Both the Blue/Black and Red ticket famous and well known; the Blue/Black Ticket is usually more expensive and is one of the most expensive of the cakes from this time period. I’m told it’s retail value is in five digits (USD). For more photos, you can look at this informative facebook post on the Pu’erh Tea Club group by Andrew.

Brewing Device & Tetsubin

Brewing Device & Tetsubin.

Solo Brewing..

Some of my most memorable and enjoyable sessions have been enjoyed in the company of others. Still, I usually try to always reserve at least one session of tea for myself. It’s my most comfortable and consistent space for drinking and where I feel the most confident evaluating a tea. I’ve had this tea once before thanks to of 3B in Hong Kong. The session in Hong Kong was a highly atypical session for me as 3B brews like a gladiator and it was a different setting than I’m used to (new place, new people).

Out comes the low TDS water from Whole Foods and the tetsubin that I’d retired temporarily due to the summer heat. The low TDS water had been recommended to me for brewing aged teas. For a tea of this age I’d normally try to use one of my clay pots but with just a bit over 5 grams I decide to begin the session with my Petr Novak shiboridashi (~75-80ml) before transferring them midway to a pot. I opt to keep my infusions on the strong-end of what I normally do. It would be a waste to brew such a famous and expensive tea too light.

1999 Big Green Tree Dry Leaf

1999 Big Green Tree Dry Leaf.

The Session

7:30AM.

Steeps 1-3.

1. The aroma hits a lower to mid range that is sweet, rich, and woody. Similarly, the profile opens up dark. There is a sticky syrupy texture, with a sweet woodiness. Notably the finish is dry. Some astringency.

2. Similar to steep 1, but there is a smooth, soft nuttiness, and pleasant longan fruitiness to it.  The astringency and dryness are still there. The mouth and top of the throat have been started to coat with sweetness.

3. The tea is getting stronger in all respects, maintaining the nutty, longan (fruit) profile. There are more minerals and the astringency is even stronger.

I take a brief break to enjoy the aftertaste which is settling in. There’s a building chesty qi that has become more obvious after the strong third steep. Before the next set of infusions I add more water to the tetsubin and reboil.

1999 BGT Early Steeps

1999 BGT Early Steeps.

Steeps 4-7.

4. Aroma is woody and camphorous. This infusion and the next proved to be the strongest, most active, least sweet infusions with the moderate astringency peaking. They also have the most qi. The taste is fairly similar but with a denser profile, a bit less fruit and more of a robust oaty/grain character.

5. The body is moderate. The tea’s body never really increases much beyond this. The profile is still active but starting to show signs of softening up. It is creamy and a bit softer with my body feeling the accumulated energy of the initial five steeps.

6 & 7. Starts to sweeten up more. Creamy, woody, notes of longan. The taste has enough layers to keep me engaged. It isn’t nearly as active as infusion four or five but maintains its body and a soft sort of strength. It is easier to drink as well.

After spending about 45 minutes with the tea, I decide to take a longer break from the tea. I take drink some water which tastes very sweet and note that I am very much energized from the first half of my session.

1999 BGT Mid Steeps

Thickening up.

9:15.

Steeps 8-10.

I debate transferring my leaves to clay, but decide to wait another round, add water, and reheat the tetsubin.

Giving the tea a short break briefly injects it with a bit more activity. These steeps are very easy to drink and have a soft, camphorous, woody, creamy profile to them. They’re notably absent of any intense sort of energy.

At steep 10, I’m brewing for ~40 seconds and make the decision to transfer the leaves to a clay pot. I choose to use a pot I use for semi-aged pu’erh.

Transferring Leaves to Pot

Transferring Leaves to Pot.

Steeps 11-13.

There’s a significant change, with the clay bringing out a more interesting mouthfeel with more stickiness. Back are the longan and the oats, as well as more minerals. It’s most similar to the earliest infusions except without really matching the same intensity, depth or qi.

Steeps 14-16.

These steeps were all 2-5 minutes with the tea losing steam. Pushed hard, there is a sweet, caramel, creamy taste to it. It’s still pretty damn tasty but at 5 minutes for steep 16 I decide to end the gong-fu portion of the tea, concluding it at around 10:15AM (a little under 3 hours for the session).

Thermos

But that’s not all! I tossed the leaves in my Zojirushi thermos and poured a kettle worth of boiling water in. I’ve covered this technique before, and it’s a nice way to get everything out of your leaves. I drank that final tea liquid after lunch. It was a sweet, dark medicinal, herbal broth with plenty of flavor. This was the sole tea of my day and I felt fully satisfied with no need to push my limits with another session.

Zojirushi BGT Wet Leaf

Zojirushi thermos brewing + the Wet Leaf.

Final Thoughts on BGT

The gong-fu took up about ~2.5-3 hours and 16 steeps, and I didn’t even finish the tea until about 5.5 hours after the session ended. I enjoyed the tea a great deal, it had a clear evolution within the session. The first stage, specifically infusions 4-6, show the strength of the tea. Once the tea passed out of its more active phase, it showed reasonable longevity and if I were very determined I probably could’ve gotten even more out of it.

A few obvious things that probably need to be said anyways:

Is this tea the best I’ve ever had? No. Is it anywhere close to a good value? Uh, no. Certainly not for drinking. The tea sells for $10k. But it was a very enjoyable session, and I am extremely grateful to have tried it.

So…you’ve had many of the classic teas. If you could afford it, which of these teas would you buy a cake of? – shah

Assuming that this has nothing to do with reselling and that I’m picking something purely for drinking and regardless of price.This is hard to say with many sessions spread out over a couple years, but of these turn of century teas I’m most tempted by something like the 1999 Yichang Hao. I’ve had just two sessions with that tea, but they’ve both been very solid and enjoyable. It’s not as punchy as this tea, which could be good or bad depending on what you’re after. This (as well as the Red) would probably be next.

Taking Tasting Notes.

The qi didn’t improve my handwriting.

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7 Responses to Famous Tea: 1999 BGT Blue/Black Ticket

  1. kyf says:

    The thermos brew is probably the only full flavored brew here. Try skipping all the preliminary steps.

  2. Ricegeek says:

    Nice write up! I appreciate the more in depth review for a nice tea like the BGT.

  3. Nick says:

    Thanks for the review James.

    I can’t believe a tea would go for 5 digits. The pu-erh market is insane. As a poor graduate student I couldn’t even dream of trying something like that tea but nonetheless is enjoyable to read about.

    Cheers man

    • Jonny 山內 says:

      If you have space and patience I would definitely invest small amounts in cheap quality bings you can store. James and Denny’s great discussion, data and spreadsheets around the value of Puerh changing provides food for thought on the fact that Puerh tea creeps up in value over.
      Tea that is affordable now may not be as affordable in years to come.
      There are teas that I would never be able to afford or ever taste due to the price, however although this makes me sad if you find a tea you like and buy when its cheap, in years to come you can still afford to drink it and dont forget it will also improve with time!
      There is a bit of Chinese calligraphy I have in my tea room that reflects on this: “small abundance ,great treasure”. As such I feel I am now the unofficial Nanjian Tu Ling fan club as I have slowly built up a store for future years on affordable Nanjian bings.

      A good place to start is finding a vendor who is able to provide samples at small cost. Also don’t be afraid to ask for a sample from vendors that don’t advertise samples, I got some Dao Hong Pao oolong as a sample that I would never be able to afford otherwise , and I got this free just by being cheeky enough to ask and taking the time to have a conversation with the vendor. This way you can start to widen your range of experience and also develop your favorites. Although I cannot guarantee your favorite might not be a very expensive production after all!!
      We all love a good spreadsheet so I also keep a spreadsheet with both a simple calculator and algorithms that are able to provide a value score and rating on tea by price per gram, age variables and comparisons between production material and origin so that when funds are short and you have to make a decision which tea you are going to purchase it can support decision making. Ultimately it comes down to taste but its a good place to start whilst building up either a store or collection or getting used to different productions and origins.

  4. nonen says:

    Excellent post! Enjoyed reading about your experience with this one.

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